The Arab state of Qatar is an example of resource extremes: while they have been able to tap extensive fossil fuel stores to create extreme economic wealth, they are a desert nation without water reserves or the capacity for domestic food production. Their need to import as much as 95% of their food makes food security a central priority. As a result, Qatari officials announced during a press conference at the Clinton Global Initiative's Annual Meeting in New York City last week, they have committed to increase domestic production by earmarking 2.8% of their GDP to develop solutions to increase water access and improve productivity of dry lands.
In addition to the need for its lands to be able to produce more food, Qatar faces the urgent task of preparing to serve as the first Arab host of the Soccer World Cup in 2022. The same design parameters to grow grass for the pitch can be applied to grow food, and the government is capitalizing on the energy and excitement generated by the event’s Middle-Eastern debut to accelerate innovations in water and agricultural systems to create a lasting, sustainable legacy in the nation and beyond.The government is committed to solutions that use abundant energy sources, such as solar power, to reduce the cost and energy intensity of water production technologies such as desalination, and which will be accessible to other nations with similarly arid climates and water needs. Improved water production will enable agricultural systems that can use water, land and energy more efficiently to maximize yields. Qatar is also exploring greenhouse technologies that will first grow grass for soccer stadiums and then be applied to food production.
It took the Dutch 100 years to become leaders in agriculture; Israel, between 30 and 40 years. Qatar has given themselves 10 years to become a leader in agriculture—in a desert environment. Innovations that might help them reach this goal abound, and include: new desalination technologies—from bio-inspired membranes embedded with proteins or manufactured with nanotechnology, to membrane-less “water chips” that use voltage to remove salts that continue to improve efficiency and reduce costs.Qatar's commitment exemplifies doing more with less—leveraging available resources including access to the sun, investment capital and a sense of urgency and national pride around sports to drive innovation. The nation is positioned to transform desalination from an energy-intensive, cost-prohibitive industry into the foundation for water and food security in arid climates. The strategy Qatar uses to combine existing technologies with new innovations to reach this goal will create exciting opportunities to meet the needs of an expanding global population for access to increasingly scarce clean water and resource supplies.